By Hannah Berman
Sometimes two women become close friends, but their husbands don’t hit it off and are simply polite and respectful when in each other’s company. Fortunately, that was not the case in the friendship between Bea and me.
I no longer recall exactly how and when it happened, but shortly after Bea and I became close friends, my late husband, Arnie, and her husband, Irwin, became friends as well. It was one of those pleasant couples’ friendships, and it began 50 years ago. Arnie and Irwin sat next to one another in shul every Shabbos and on the yomim tovim as well, and eventually some of their children became friendly with our children. It was, one might say, a family affair. And it goes on until today.
Hubby passed away nine years ago and we lost Bea very recently. As the days pass, more and more memories of the time we shared have begun to surface. There are no unpleasant ones, and some of these memories are as hilarious as they are comforting. Just the other day I reminded Irwin about a funny story from many years ago. It started just before Purim, which is a time when some people like to play practical jokes.
Bea and Irwin never missed a showing of the program known as Jeopardy. They watched it every night. Hubby and I did the same thing. One evening, we called them to see if they knew the answer to the final Jeopardy question. And that was just the beginning! From that evening on, each time the final question was asked, either they would call us or we would call them to see who could come up with the correct answer first. It was almost always them! Actually, it was mostly Bea. My friend knew the answer to just about every question and when she didn’t actually know the answer, she was able to figure it out. It was amazing. And so, it was a nightly competition that Hubby and I usually lost.
One year, as an anniversary gift, one of my daughters gave Hubby and me a terrific gift. As it happened this was just before Purim. We didn’t have cable at the time and this daughter decided that we should have it, so she purchased one year’s worth of cable for us. Needless to say, we got hooked on it and renewed it every year thereafter. At the time, Bea and Irwin didn’t yet have cable. It was during that brief period—after we got it and before they did—that Hubby made a discovery, quite by accident. He was channel surfing the cable channels one afternoon when he noticed that Jeopardy was on two hours earlier than it was on the non-cable channel. And that was how it started! Hubby would tune in to the earlier program to get the answer to the final Jeopardy question. He may not have even understood the question, and without a doubt he most often didn’t know the answer, but that was not important. He would write down the answer on a piece of paper, put the paper next to the phone, and then trot it out when we faced our nightly challenge phone call with Bea and Irwin.
Now, suddenly, Hubby knew the answer to the final Jeopardy question every single time. Even if Bea knew it, which she so often did, Hubby managed to answer it first. And answering first was what mattered. He was good at this subterfuge. If Bea wasn’t sure of the answer, Hubby held back for a few seconds and didn’t come up with the answer immediately. He would hem and haw and say things like, “Let me think. I’m pretty sure I know the answer to this question.” He would pretend to be thinking about it before giving the answer. This went on for months, and Bea and Irwin could not figure out how he suddenly got so smart and was able to best her every time. She used to say, “Oh my goodness, when did you suddenly become such a genius?”
After a while, I devised a plan of my own. I had always wondered what it must be like to be a double agent, so I got the bright idea that I would call Bea and tip her off. I would get the thrill of being something of a double agent, but, when caught, I wouldn’t go to prison! My plan was to watch the earlier program with Hubby, and when he wasn’t nearby, I would call Bea to give her the answer. But the competition between Bea and Hubby was so much fun that I didn’t want to spoil it just yet. There was plenty of time to pull a fast one on Hubby.
I never got the chance because somewhere along the way he decided to confess. His confession wasn’t exactly born of innocence and kindness. It happened when he learned that Bea and Irwin had signed up for cable. He knew the jig was up. So he told them to tune into the cable station that aired the Jeopardy program earlier. There is no way to describe how we all howled with laughter. The four of us remembered it always! It was the best Purim prank ever, and it lasted for months.
As an interesting postscript, we all had a mutual friend, Norman. Norman was once seated on a plane next to the program’s host, Alex Trebek, and, as seatmates often do, they began to chat. Norman couldn’t resist telling Trebek the story about what his friend was doing to his other friend. Before he got to the end and had the chance to explain that we had set our friends straight, Mr. Trebek said that he thought it was hilarious. He told Norman to tell us to keep it up and not to let them know the truth. But it was too late for that. And that’s the way it was. n
Hannah Berman lives in Woodmere and gives private small-group lessons in mah-jongg and canasta. She can be reached at Savtahannah@aol.com or 516-295-4435.